Last week I talked about just how darn much I love Joe Casey. This week I'm going to actually talk about one of his specific works, the not-quite-neonoir Codeflesh, by Casey and Walking Dead's Charlie Adlard.
This was not the first work of Casey or Adlard that I had consumed, but it came after Godland, when I had begun searching out Joe Casey's work in a purposeful manner, buying and ordering anything available to me through Star Comics. It was a definite change of pace from the high-intensity spectacle that is Godland.
Codeflesh was first published in 2001 as part of an intended ongoing in the short-lived Double Image series, but events outside the control of Casey or Adlard kept the output at 8 half issues. The version I purchased and read is the new "definitive edition" that came out in 2009 (also from Image), though AiT/PlanetLAR printed a paperback collection earlier. I'm going to go ahead and call the Definitive Codeflesh the superior version, because it includes the original pages now recolored and cleaned up, new content, and the promise of more to come, rumors of which still float about the internet. I don't know how Adlard plans on doing this with Walking Dead beginning an almost bi-weekly schedule with issue 115, so I'm not gonna cross my fingers, but I would be excited to see it solicited and released. He work seems a bit more vibrant when he's not drawing zombies for the thousandth time, but I don't begrudge the man a mealticket by any means.
To set the scene, it's starts as a nice little homage to Will Eisner's The Spirit, inasmuch as we have an extralegal vigilante with the bare minimum of a costume (just a mask and street clothes) and title pages and panels with the name of the book worked cleverly into the scenery. But there's no Commissioner or Ellen Dolan here, just a nice little story about a guy addicted to action with a spectacularly catastrophic social life. I could go further into the story, but this thing is so short on its own that to spend more than a few sentences on it would essentially be a summary of the whole thing. Really what you need to know about the story itself is this: it's about a bail bondsman who writes bonds for superpowered criminals, and uses a mask to be the bounty hunter he tells people sends out to capture skips. His love life is in shambles and his only friend is his business partner. Anything else you want about plot points, well, go read it yourself!
What I really want to talk about is: is it any good? I say yes. I'm a sucker for any sort of hard boiled crime stories. I'm picky about them because that genre can lead to a lot of trash, but if that's your basic setting, you can color me intrigued at least. And the premise as described above had enough of an original hook that I can say it's some damn fine almost-noir, right up there with the best of the Vertigo Crime (normally a link would go here, but it appears, after some searching, that this particular series hasn't made it to comixology yet) series from a couple years back.
It's important to note that Codeflesh is a very quick read, but the content itself is filling enough that you're still getting a nice-sized bang for your buck. In the space of what is essentially 4 and-a-half normal monthly comics, we see a relationship falter, a man come to terms with his internal demons as best he knows how, and we hop from one coast to the other. At no point is there a moment of whiplash or confusion. Codeflesh is a lithe, sinewy beast of a tale, no content wasted on padding. Casey and Adlard make the most of their economy of space which is, I guess, another similarity to The Spirit. You get a quick, lean little tale that has a satisfying (for the genre) beginning, middle and end.
Moving on to composition, this may be the retouched, finished pages or the new coloring, or maybe just the difference in material, but the shadow-drenched world of Codeflesh under Adlard's pencil is spectacular to behold. The characters move about in an inky domain, with no intermediary between light and dark. They're either completely visible, or totally blacked out. It's a nice little contrast the the story itself which, while not a stereotypical noir, has enough gray morality to make the visual black and whites stand out. It's also a stark contrast to Walking Dead, Adlard's current bread and butter, which is, in my own humble opinion, rendered more often than not rather plainly. Adlard's too good to really turn in something bad, but it may be guilty of the bigger sin of being bland. Walking Dead is more often than not just bland black and white. Codeflesh is deep blacks, fuzzy grays, and some very nice, muted splashes of color, as befits a story of this type. But beyond the colors, the art has a spark beneath it, a feeling of completeness, where the characters act more alive. The action is more kinetic, the subdued moments more intimate, the cityscapes vast and the alleys and back rooms claustrophobic. It's a different Adlard on this book. A better Adlard.
So I recommend Codeflesh, heartily. If you know Charlie Adlard only from his current Walking Dead work, make haste to check this graphic novel out to see a definitive step up in what he's capable of. If you're only familiar with Joe Casey through his corporate or more outlandish work like godland or Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker, check this out to see him tell a bit more grounded tale of a guy hangin' on by the skin of his teeth. If you've never scoped out or ever wrote off Image Comics in general, this is a great way to get introduced to the better work they're capable of publishing.
That's all I got on Codeflesh. It's a short story, so I can't take too much time talking about it before I just start padding this thing out. Check back with me next time as I go over something a bit more high concept. Maybe Officer Downe: Bigger Better Bastard Edition or Charlatan's Ball.